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dimanche 19 avril 2015

The fāfaru

Nectar of Polynesian taste buds
Every nation, every society, every culture has one or more specialties that no foreign palate seems to appreciate, or even consider without an obvious disgust. This applies to the fāfaru, an exclusively Polynesian traditional dish.

In this category, we immediately think of Scottish Haggis, of the Chinese alive monkey's brain, the live cockroaches with lemon grass  of the  Japanese,  the living earthworms in salad of the Americans and Quebecers, of  termite larvae on skewers of the Central Africans, etc., etc., etc…

Uneatable recipes
The list of these disgusting recipes for some and at the top of refinement for others is much longer than some might think. And it appears no country, no culture, no nation has among its gustatory record at least one of these icons of the strange or repulsive.

A delight of insect skewers
However, it would be churlish for me not to quote some of the specialties of the prestigious and indisputable French gastronomy, global benchmark for gourmets. So are we the only ones in the world to enjoy a snail casserole, a pan-fried frog legs and some other wonders of our national cooking that we are alone to savor...

Obviously, it is impossible for me to close this chapter without mentioning some of our most delectable cheeses that nobody in the world except us can bear at the end of a dinner party. I think of, among other delights, the Munster, the Cancoillote, the Corsican goat cheese, the "silk worker's brain"( or Canut’s brain), the Roquefort, Maroilles or Void ... The list is endless, as smelling as tasty!

The fāfaru:  appetizing, right?
In the Hall of Fame (or Pantheon) of these ambrosias, so delicate for some and emetic for others, no doubt that the Polynesian fāfaru occupies a place of choice, both for its scent as its method of preparation...

The ingredients of fāfaru
Present in each of the 118 Polynesian islands, the composition of this dish much appreciated changes depending on where you are. It differs from one cook to another. However, it is still based on the same principle.

First of all, you should know that the fāfaru is prepared in 3 distinct steps. Make firstly the Miti fāfaru, which is the concoction in which the fish, once cleansed, will marinate; then the Miti hue which will serve as a sauce. Further, prepare the fish itself (after having caught it!)...
A good fāfaru imposes the following adventures and operations: boat out beyond the reef to get two good liters of sea water off. If your choice fells on one of these species, take the opportunity to catch some mullet, tuna or sailfish. Otherwise, countless lagoon fish like the parrot can also do the trick. For fishing it, back the open sea...

Some mullet of the day for your fāfaru
Once back on land, start reaping some small beach crabs. Then you must run a getaway in the bed of a river, in a valley or mountain, to get the necessary shrimps (South Pacific prawns) without which there can be no real miti fāfaru. Tahitian's word!

Back from the river, make a detour to the fa'a'apu* to pick up some green coconuts. You'll just have to begin to cook.

The green coconuts can't be picked on the ground, alas...
In order to carry out the following steps leading to your fāfaru, add two cloves of garlic, chopped ginger and a small local pepper, minced too (For sensitive palates, be careful! explosive effects!).

It's all there: you just have to put your cook's flower wreath to honor your stars under the Polynesian sky...

Prepare your miti fāfaru…
Before you begin, you must solve a cruel dilemma: what flavor will you give to your fāfaru? It totally depends on the basic ingredient of your miti fāfaru: beach crab, shrimp heads or mullet heads... Today, let’s opt for the shrimp: the most dainty, according to experts.

There is also ready-made miti fāfaru, in the market! ...
Comfortably installed on the terrace in the fresh air of the Pacific, in a container, pour in, one of your two liters of seawater. Peel the shrimps and immerse thoroughly the heads in the basin. The “chevrettes” heads (or shrimp heads) can be replaced by the mullets bones or the flesh or, ultimately, by small crabs. Allow to ferment in the shade for four or five days...

Filter this brine with a cloth and pour it in tightly closed bottles. Your miti fafaru is usable with all its fragrance for a few weeks...

…Then your miti hue
For a liter of miti hue, split into two eight young green coconuts. Once the flesh extracted from the shells, carefully remove it outer skin. With patience, cut it into pieces as small as possible ... The next step is of scalding this mixture for a few minutes.

While your cocos pieces are cooling, pour the rest of your seawater into a container. Add the juice you have obtained by crushing a few heads of prawns (or failing beach crabs). Add your coconut pulp and, again, let rest in the shade for two or three days in a covered container. Stir from time to time...

You thought it's done and you might swim to get rid of the sweet smell of shrimp? Big mistake!

Don't worry: “miti hue” is also in the shops
The time of fermentation passed, remove the coconut cubes and rinse thoroughly with fresh water by removing carefully all the pieces of shrimps or crabs. Here the ordeal begins... You must crush the nuts into a sort of mash! Fortunately, colonization also brought electricity and the mixer ... Add water to your preparation until the desired consistency and reserve it in the refrigerator. The miti hue can be kept a few days, but no more.

The good news is that we find today miti hue and miti fāfaru, the both ready in all food stores and on all markets of the fenua!

And now, the fāfaru!  
Last stage of your culinary marathon, you must now take care of the fish itself. Be careful: the fāfaru can't accommodate a fish that is not ultra-fresh. In this case, a swordfish caught of the morning will be perfect.

Prepare the fāfaru fish: a pleasure!
Take on the beast a few fillets very thin, then cut in pieces from six to eight inches square and put to soak in a seawater jar. When all is cut, remove a good half of water and add your selected condiments: chopped garlic, grated ginger, hot pepper... Finally, drown everything with your miti fāfaru and mix gently.

At this point, you can customize your dish by adding some raw shrimp tails.

Cover and marinate to your taste: during two to three hours for a relatively light fragrance, up to eight or ten hours for a "specialist's fāfaru".

The first fāfaru of Monak
Wait a little bit before living your fāfaru experience. Monak has done it for you. She tells...

“On a dare, just to say," I can do it! I can... savor" this incredible flavour, and I let myself be guided by the elegant finesse of the fāfaru fillets. Snorkeling at first bite, stenches of marshes and mass graves invade me, with sewage acidities of remugles of broumés (bait). Suddenly the brackish pages of the morgue in Therese Raquin (Zola), the pestilential whiffs of the stalls in the Süskind's Perfume have torn my stomach and twisted my mouth as a rotting bitter. I have not withstood the shock! I better next time "...

In order not conclude on this note a tad negative (although full of hope and determination...), I'll leave the last word to Heiani, a Tahitian friend: "Monak made a small mistake in the tasting: the fāfaru must never be eaten alone, but accompanied by other dishes that make up the Polynesian ma'a. Don't focus on the smell, otherwise you can’t really taste. We are all accustomed from childhood and we don't care no more! I like it well, because the fāfaru preparation makes the fish very tender. In addition, it is good in the mouth. In the same time, the visions of the lagoon are mixing with the scents of the sea..."

When I told you that the tastes and colors...

-fa'a'apu: Polynesian name of the family vegetable garden and orchard. It can sometimes be very far from the fare (home) in the mountains.
-ma'a : food, meal

An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak

Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.

vendredi 10 avril 2015

The delights of Lola

Chicken Fāfā

To speak of traditional cook in Polynesia, is to say also that the recipes are handed down from generation to generation. In Lola’s family, a native of Vanilla Island (Taha'a), each member can take care of the mā'a, or meal: no gender distinction.

Fāfā sticks or island spinach branches
"Chicken fāfā ", a well-known and favorite dish, combines poultry, leaf and fruit in an unctuous and tasty dosage. Power engineering, it is concocted by Lola's kinship for special occasions. Each and everybody have one's culinary rites!

The fabulous coconut, emblem fruit of the islands
So, for you to share this recipe with the flavor and aroma delicately delicious, let the "know-how" be. This small gourmet series is entitled "The delights of Lola"…

A typical local recipe
The "Chicken fāfā ", a tutelary recipe, uses only local products: chicken, coconut milk and fāfā. Let's see its origin. 

The chicken would have left traces there are more than 3000 years in the northwestern islands (Vanuatu) and East Pacific (Tonga). It would have been introduced with the first waves of immigration: but, this story shall also be told... So, refer to the news supplied by your beloved archaeologists.

This lineage of the chickens
As for our cock of Bankiva, the species that is resistant and grows on most archipelagos of French Polynesia, features characteristics like no other. The animal lives in freedom in the gardens, in the city and in the forests. Its flight is powerful and it sings both day and night; except for the rainy season when the showers pour out. As for the chicken, if you don’t have the chance to catch one, the supermarkets and small shops provide you with local battery-farming or free-range chickens, or imported from Australia too.

For those without fa'a'apu, the fāfā is part of basic vegetables in Polynesia, abundant in all markets. For its consistency and taste, it is comparable to spinach (leafy-vegetable), of which the bottom rod melts during cooking. It may be replaced by the taruā, another kind of tuber. Moreover its smoothness will be used to enhance some surprising desserts.

At the market, some taruā….
If you're not one of those athletic cooks who do their muscles by grating the flesh of nuts, coconut milk is available in bottle in all the small groceries of the fenua. With these three ingredients, of which the last is a fruit that forms part of the composition of savory and sweet dishes, you are sure you can taste delicious typically natural homemade products.

“The nice dish of Lola”
No need cookware or convoluted utensils. The recipe is for lovers gourmets. Lola, has just received his last SMS, just to confirm the veracity of her magic formula: it’s only gradually that we will show the delectable secrets.

You have to know first of all that the proportions fit your appetite. A Tahitian serving is about two metropolitan portions. Your turn to play! For 3 people, Lola works by feel.

Enjoy: a creed!”
The bunch of fāfā:
  1. Place on the table, a beautiful bunch of green spinach leaves that still diffuse sunlight. Remove the stems and unstick the thin skin that's squirming by spirals: cut them to the size of a cigarette filter. Slice the largest leaves in half. Wash.
  2. Dip them in a pot of boiling water. Allow to cook until the leaves are darker: between "green spinach" and "emerald green". A good half an hour. Leave to drain.
  3. Replace by the stalks diced. You know they are cooked when they are engulfed in the bottom of the pot. Let drain well.
  4. Slice into strips a half onion. Already, the delicious and subtle fragrance of your mixed vegetables tickles pleasantly your nostrils...  

The "Recipe Lola," that's all that!
The chicken:
  1. So, to make sure you don't waste all the morning, even in the most idyllic setting of a fare (home), open to all breezes, choose rather a boneless chicken. You'll just cut it into small approximate cubes.
  2. Marinate in a little soy sauce, dye the meat of a light tan. Add salt.
  3. In a skillet, brown with a little oil, a small amount of onions. Then add the chicken pieces.
  4. The preparation is ready when the onion slices have melted: it's magic! It is essential to taste and to let people around you sample it, even if it's still early, even if you are still on coffee time that accompanies your task. Otherwise, the cook is upset!

The chicken is browning…
Coconut milk and simmering dish:
  1. Into a deep dish  or lidded cooking-pot, the principle is that of layer: first spread the chicken pieces
  2. Then, hide them with all the greenery
  3. Later, garnish with the onion slices
  4. Finally, sprinkle everything with the third of a bottle of coconut milk.
  5. Cover! Bake! For a good half an hour, more if you prefer a slightly crunchy texture. And do not forget to cover ... for it keeps the appearance of stew.

Coconut milk, a flavor!
Obviously, while the dish is cooking, you can do the things you need to do or any other form of leisure. It's time to dive into reading your favorite newspaper.

Sorry! After sacrificing the urgency of the dishes, because you still used: a cutting board, a knife, a bowl for vegetables, another for the marinade, a deep-dish, a plate , a stove, a drainer, here called "bailer", a spatula, a slotted spoon, a wooden spoon ...

But it also goes without saying, that to wash dishes does not imply the master-cook, but her temporary kitchen-helper.

Lola's torments
The first concern of Lola, besides the anxiety that all culinary offering demands, because it's good gift for the taste buds when this vast culinary operation is approached, is at the level of the cooking time and of the reaction in baking of the various ingredients.

Chicken fāfā for licking
 The second is characteristic of the taruā-leaves: you must suppress your cravings and keep you wanting to taste the fāfā leaves raw. They would be toxic! We have not tried.

The third, which is not the least of which, is to check that the gas cylinder will not empty halfway through... We admit that this minor incident has not spared us!

The fourth is to drain the water from the pot, which is said this way: "I must capsize my water"

The penultimate, if you have no lid to cover the dish in the oven: that preparation may broil and the meal may look like a flan. It's not worse. And that could be a variant. Cooking is always an alchemy!

The last is a desire of Lola, issued with the deepest humility: "And good appetite, friends! »

The ballet of Lola's hands
As for the Tahitian cook, it adorns of a gesture harmony.

Rest assured! The recipe is actually simple. It just requires a little attention.

An article of Monak

Glossary taken from the dictionary of: l’Académie tahitienne :
- mā'a : usually food, meal, dishes...
-fāfā: (Root: fa = petiole). Young stems of "Taro" or "taruā ", intended to be eaten like spinach. The pota is made with young leaves.
-fāfā papa'ā: spinach.
- pota : 1) All green vegetables: cabbage, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, leaf of "Taro" or "tarua."        2) More properly, young leaves of "taro", "taruā " and "kararū."
-fa'a'apu : Plantation.
- fare: House, box, building.
- fenua: 1) Island, country. 2) Earth field property. 3) Earth, human lifetime.

 © Monak & Julien Gué. Ask for the authors’ agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.